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Play-off Teams
 

Oakland has been getting accolades for their brilliant low budget achievements these past two years. Every stroke was the brush of genius. Right? What about that Carlos Pena and prospects for Ted Lilly and prospects trade? Of course, we won`t know the final tally of that trade until those prospects mature and we see how Pena and Lilly pan out. My take is that it would be foolish to bet in favour of the Tigers organization over the A`s. If it were two equally respectable organizations, however, I would say Pena and those prospects should have greater six year value (before free agency) than Lilly and his supporting cast. Even for the immediate pennant / championship chase at hand, Lilly has been hurt and hasn`t been needed to secure a spot in the play-offs. Once those play-offs begin, the A`s won`t need more than Zito, Hudson, Mulder, and Lidle for a rotation. Finally, it is hard to argue against success, but I would rather have Pena as my first baseman right now, than Scott Hatteberg. They might as well have Scott Spiezio.

 

Speaking of catchers and middle infielders playing slugger positions, the A`s acquired Ray Durham to play DH! He`s been the lead-off batter they were looking for. I`ll give them credit for creativity.

 

Talk about teams playing well on small budgets - how about those Twins! Find the weakness on that team. They will have a post-season advantage because of the cheering factor in their giant garbage can. They will have a post-season disadvantage, because their starting pitching talent is spread across six pitchers instead of concentrated in two or three. They do have a deep pen and plenty of pinch hitters, if they have to play in the NL.

 

They won`t get that far. It`s going to be Oakland or the big budget boys of New York. Now, those Yankees also have 6 fine starting pitchers. In fact, I don`t think there has ever been a team with a sixth starter as fine as Jeff Weaver - or David Wells, if you prefer. By the way, the Yankees might be doing something very smart by using Jeff Weaver sparingly in the bullpen. The Tigers overused him. If the Yanks continued to ride Weaver like a young workhorse, the Yankees who gave up Lilly and those accompanying prospects would end up with the weakest corner of the trade with Oakland and Detroit.

 

Back to the play-offs, Clemens, Mussina, and Pettitte make an excellent trio. Even if Clemens and Mussina haven`t had good seasons, they will be just fine for the play-offs. They are already. Oscar Hernandez is a good match-up against Cory Lidle. The Yankees have just too many fine players. If one is cold, another will take the heat. Does that metaphor make sense? Unless, Oakland`s exalted rotation can dam the Yankees, or the Atlanta trio of Maddux, Glavine, and Millwood can shoot the Diamondbacks, I see the World Series as a rematch of New York vs. Johnson & Schilling.

Other AL West Teams

How shocking to see Anaheim in the wild card seat. This surprises me more than Minnesota running away with their division. The Twins have slowly but surely built their club up with young talent. They have a pretty good player at every position including 5th starter. Never fear, Chicago will be back to give them a good race next year - and I wouldn`t be surprised to finally see some improvement in Detroit.

The Angels? How can they win with Spiezio and Fullmer at the required slugger positions of 1B and DH? Also, top pick centerfielder wonderkind Darrin Erstad continues to underachieve for the second year in a row and for the 3rd time in the past four seasons. Troy Glaus is having his first disappointing season. Tim Salmon had a very disappointing first half. Ben Molina hasn`t hit well enough to keep his job, but he is still the Angels` catcher.

Some things have gone well. Their top overachievers are their middle infielders David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy. Their starting rotation retained their strength (Washburn and Ortiz) and boosted up the rest (Appier, Sele, and a fine rookie named John Lackey). Finally, they developed this year the thing that is most overlooked in Scoresheet and in real baseball: a fine bullpen. Of course, it helps when Troy Percival is having one of his great years.

 

The Mariners` bullpen, which helped win 116 games last year, is still in excellent shape. However, the core of the starting line-up has aged and slowed down this year. Perhaps, Ichiro Suzuki led a charge of last hurrahs from Brett Boone, Edgar Martinez, and Mark McLemore last year. Incoming oldies Jeff Cirillo and Ruben Sierra fared no better. Drew Cameron should still be in his prime, but he`s been a bit off this year, too. John Olerud and Dan Wilson are four years older and having fine seasons. Congratulations to Joel Pineiro on establishing himself as a terrific starter.

 

I haven`t heard any good arguments as to why Alex Rodriguez should be denied the MVP, yet another time. One look at Tejada and Soriano`s walk totals knocks the contenders out of the running. Last place? So, if the rest of the team stinks (Rogers and Palmeiro excluded), a player can`t win an MVP no matter how well he plays? That isn`t fair. Baseball is a game, so fairness counts. ARod is leading the league in RBIs, so those Neanderthal sportswriters who voted in Juan Gonzalez twice over ARod have no one else to vote for this year.

 

Two other Rangers who are playing well have come out of long injury-filled funks. Francisco Cordero the fireballing hot Tiger prospect was the key to the first Juan Gonzalez trade. His first year after the trade was a disappointment. Last year he pitched only 18 innings, but was unhittable in the International League in 15 of them, and he`s close to unhittable now. Remember 1996 Rookie-of-the-Year Todd Hollandsworth? He never had a comparable season since. He was only 23. He struggled to establish himself the past two seasons in Colorado after the Dodgers finally unloaded him. He`s been a human tornado in his first 27 games in Texas.

 

Other AL Central Teams

Approximately 10 games separates each team in the AL Central. It must be kind of lonely and boring out there. That`s the trouble with 4 or 5 team divisions.

 

Minnesota`s closest also ran was - as I expected at the start of the year - Chicago. This division is so bad, however, that this second place team is struggling to reach .500.

 

Frank Thomas had the worse year of his career - excluding last year. Need I point out he made nearly 10 million bucks? Even if he only costs you a protection spot, I`d be leery about protecting him at 35 years old and 275 lbs. However, there is no precedent for Frank Thomas. He`s not Ted Williams and he`s not Dick Allen. He is the Big Hurt and well worth ranking in your top 5, if he is available for Phase 2 next year.

 

D`Angelo Jimenez is not what his stats are showing for the AL only. His combined Major League stats tell a truer story.

 

Joe Borchard, Aaron Rowland, and Carlos Lee will fight over two outfield spots next year.

 

Don`t be shocked if the ChiSox move Valentin back to third and try a different shortstop.

 

The White Sox starters were all to some degree disappointing except Mark Buehrle who they might have overused. He is looking quite warn down this month. A Clemens or Johnson could handle that load, but I`m praying they haven`t ruined the 23 year-old`s arm. Another guy I`m concerned about is Todd Ritchie who they worked to death in the first half while he was going well. No pitcher was more wretched in the 2nd half than Ritchie. Any of those other young arms could blossom next year.

 

The Indians have fallen into a need to rebuild like an anvil in a lake. Whether it is necessary to keep Thome, Burks, and Vizquel around to show the up-and-comers how to do it, I don`t know, but they have remained productive. I also don`t know if this means anything to anybody, but Thome is Euro-American, Burks is Afro-American, and Vizquel is Euro-South American. Vizquel's presence is causing Brandon Phillips to play secondbase. Thome and Burks are not playing positions that would not normally block a worthwhile prospect, although, they probably ought to move one of them.

 

Don`t ask me how the Indians pitching staff will shake down next year. The possibilities are endless and some tried recently are senseless.

 

Delving deeper into the depths of the dumbest division we come to the Kansas City Royals. How about that Chuck Knoblauch with his 19 stolen bases and only 3 time caught? With that kind of baserunning, who needs an outfielder that can hit home runs or get on base? Like Thomas, Knoblauch will be 35 before the next season is over. He looks in better shape, but he`s running out of excuses for his astonishing decline over the last three years.

 

I`m happy for Raul Ibanez. He had a career year or two in the minors. This was probably his only glory in the majors. Except for Sweeney and Beltran, this entire line-up could be revamped. Except for Paul Byrd, I`d say the same thing regarding the pitching staff. And you gotta ask, Where did he come from? and more importantly, Will he be about this good next year?

 

The disaster in Detroit is an ironic twist to a franchise, which planned on being a major force in their first years in Comerica Park. It serves them right, I guess, for trading away their best young players for one year of a dislikable star namely Juan Gonzalez, not finding coaches who could turn their pitching prospects into solid pitchers, and generally having a third rate development system in place for the last 20 years. It breaks my heart, because this used to be my team.

 

That said, there are signs of encouragement. Owner Mike Illitch is a proven winner when it comes to sports franchises. Heck, the Red Wings are sort of the Yankees of hockey right now. The Tigers have two middle infielders Infante and Santiago are very young and have plenty of potential. Firstbaseman Carlos Pena was considered one of the best prospects in the world up until his mediocre showing this season. One gives pause to the fact that he was traded twice this year. Mitch Meluskey is another potential hitting machine. Eric Munson has the tools to be a fine slugger, but has progressed a little too slowly. I see nowhere to play him, anyway.

 

It appears to have been a big mistake that Luis Pujols gave up on Mike Rivera behind the plate so quickly and stuck with Brandon Inge instead. I wonder if they will give Rivera another chance or try somebody else.

 

We must remind ourselves not to get too excited about a relief pitching prospect, but Franklyn German could wind up better than Matt Anderson or Francisco Cordero.

 

The rest of the team is expendable. I like Bobby Higginson`s style, but he just doesn`t have any impact numerically. Perhaps, Higgy, Young, Fick, Palmer, Simon, Lombard, and even Halter would be appear to be good players in another ballpark, but they aren`t cutting it here. Those 12 errors Rob Fick has amassed as an outfielder have been ignored. Unfortunately, this team has somehow stocked up on firstbaseman-DH types as though they were the Devil Rays. 

What are their pitcher`s excuses in this pitcher`s paradise? Mark Redman looks like a good year / bad year pitcher, so the rotation could get worse. Just when I thought Steve Sparks had become a consistently fine starter, he has a terrible season. Then a month ago, it looked like he turned it around. Wakefield and he were fluttering batters into frustration. Suddenly, Sparks was worse than ever, while Wakefield has continued beautifully to the end. Their ages are one year apart. I guess the career success of knuckleballer is as predictable as the pitch`s motion.

Eastern Division also-rans

 

You would think a team which had Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Manny Ramirez would be a shoo-in for the play-offs every year. However, the Mariners were not consistent making it with Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey, either. Seattle even had Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner when they were outstanding. Derek Lowe has emerged as an outstanding starter for Boston. Do we believe Tim Wakefield has, too? Wakefield has collapsed before. Be leery.

 

Almost everyone on the BoSox other than Lowe and Wakefield had a disappointing year. I suppose considering the fragility of Nomar`s wrists, we can be happy with the season he had. Pedro and Manny were great, but missed too many games. The saddest case was Tony Clark. His O+S of .556 was terrible for even for a shortstop. Many of us expected this hard working magnificent athlete to break out from his respectable .857 career O+S.

 

Toronto forged through much of the season as a disappointment to most fans. They didn`t win under Buck Martinez despite the arrival of probable Rookie-of-the-Year Eric Hinske and always-had-the-potential-but-finally-blossomed Roy Halladay. Carlos Tosca`s first significant move was to send bench and eventually send down their 22 year old shortstop Felipe Lopez in favour of career back-up utility infielder Chris Woodward. It actually helped, although, I`m not sure if that was best for the long term. What really gave the Jays a boost was their finally calling up Josh Phelps and Orlando Hudson. A report in the Toronto Sun reports that Woodward will be the shortstop next year, while Lopez will challenge Hudson for the starting second base job. They really hate this Hudson guy, don`t they? He had a terrible final week, but played very well up until then. He played well throughout most of the year at Syracuse. Lopez actually hit even better than Hudson there, but was terrible in the show. Woodward is 26 and Hudson is 24. You would think the Jays would consider Lopez and Hudson to be their infield of the future, but age isn`t everything.

 

The Toronto Star (can you tell I live in Toronto?) mentioned that GM Ricciardi would dangle Jose Cruz to acquire a badly needed starting pitcher, but if I had to trade someone, I`d rather have any two of the competing middle infielders in the line-up than heir-apparent rightfielder Jayson Werth. Actually, I would rather have Werth catching than Ken Huckaby.

 

Am I mistaken, or have the standings in this division been the same every year since Baltimore fell apart a few years ago? No wonder attendance is so down amongst the bottom three teams here. I panned these Birds at the start of the year, yet, they held together fairly respectably most of the year. Essentially, their entire success came unexpectedly from three pitchers. Nobody was touting starter Rodrigo Lopez as a Rookie of the Year candidate unless, perhaps, they were related to him. But here he is the likely runner-up for the award. If it is not Lopez, then the runner-up will probably be reliever Jorge Julio who had an even less distinguished minor league career. Even more shocking was the brilliant performance from Buddy Groom - a 37-year-old reliever who came into this season with 10 years of 4.91 ERA. Julio was the closer, but Groom was the lefty set-up man with a 1.60 ERA and a 4 to 1 K:W. Willis Roberts did a solid job of setting up from the right side. Sidney Ponson could be a fine starter, if he could stay healthy.

 

Until I inspect the personnel on the Orioles more closely, there is no one else who is worthy of drafting except as a desperate position plug.

 

Good young Tampa Bay. The player who was by far the best hitter on this team was sent to the minors for the first month of the season. Obviously, Hal McRae doesn`t read my web site. I had Aubrey Huff on both of my teams. (I had their second best hitter on both of my teams, too: Randy Winn.) Toby Hall is probably a better hitter than Winn, but he was sent down to the minors for a long spell, too.

 

As for the pitchers, the only one with an ERA below 4.00 was a 27 year old rookie / minor league veteran named Lance Carter who pitched only 20 innings for the big boys. Heck, if Julio and Groom can come out of nowhere, maybe this Carter fellow is for real, too. He had 90 strikeouts and only 12 walks in the IL before his call-up.

Perhaps, the new TB manager will shake things up and get some good seasons out of the players on this team next year. That often happens, at least, temporarily with a new manager. Expansion teams are supposed to be bad for a few years. This one will take longer than usual unless they smarten up.

John Carter